Sunday, December 15, 2013

The 3 - December 15, 2013

On this edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", an update on the efforts being made by the wife of an Iranian-American pastor, who is currently being held in prison in Iran, to set him free.   Also, a judge has ruled that a long-standing veteran's memorial in California that features a large cross must be taken down. And, the top story involves the ongoing confusion over the proper, constitutional expressions of Christmas in public schools.

3 - Imprisoned Iranian-American pastor's wife testifies before Congress

As Christmas approaches, believers continue to be reminded about the plight of Saeed Abedini, a pastor and an American citizen who was born in Iran and returned there to do ministry over a year ago.   He was arrested and has been placed in notorious prisons in the nation, including Evin prison and now the Rajai Shahr prison, where his plight is said to be worsening.

His wife, Naghmeh, testified before a House subcommittee on foreign affairs on Thursday. According to a story on the website, quoting Charisma News, she said that, "Each day that [Saeed Abedini] remains in that dreadful place could mean a death sentence; any day could be execution day."

Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) joined Abedini before Congress. He related that, "The Obama Administration and the U.S. State Department had a historic opportunity to demand Pastor Saeed’s release, along with that of all wrongly detained Americans in Iran, as a precondition to the nuclear negotiations...As Dr. Katrins Lantos Sweet, Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, testified, this would have been an easy ask. Yet, the Obama Administration intentionally chose not to even ask for his release as a precondition to the negotiations, leaving Pastor Saeed behind – malnourished, in increasing pain, and without medication.”

Naghmeh is quoted as saying that, “As Christmas quickly approaches, it is just another painful reminder of life without Saeed for our family. When I ask my children what they want for Christmas, their answer is simple. It’s the same thing they wanted for their birthdays this year. It’s the same thing they want every day. They just want Daddy. They want Daddy home..."
At the website,, which you can access by typing in, you can add your name to an online petition calling for his release.  Over 161,000 people have done that thus far.  The section of the website dealing with Pastor Saeed mentions the nuclear "deal" with Iran, so you might assume that this number has been acquired since that deal, because, previously, over 610,000 signatures were reported to have been collected.  Also, over 193,000 people have written to the President of Iran asking him to release Pastor Saeed.

2 - Mount Soledad cross ordered to be removed

Since 1954, a large cross has stood on Mount Soledad, overlooking the city of San Diego, as a memorial to the sacrifices of veterans.  It is surrounded by 3,000 plaques to memorialize America’s war heroes from the Revolutionary War forward.

CitizenLink reports that a Federal judge has ruled that the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross must be removed from the San Diego site.  Liberty Institute vows to appeal the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — if necessary.

Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for Liberty Institute says that, “The judge reluctantly agreed with a previous ruling by 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that this hallowed veterans memorial must be removed." The appeals court had ruled in 2011 that the cross was unconstitutional.

Sasser said he’s confident that the memorial will win on appeal.

The legal proceedings started in 1989 when the ACLU and other groups filed suit saying the 43-foot-tall cross violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Since then many attempts have been made to save the cross.  Congress passed a law in 2004 making the city-owned display a national memorial.

Bruce Bailey, president of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, told Fox News: “It is unfortunate that the 9th Circuit left the judge no choice but to order the tearing down of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross."  He added that he’s grateful the judge chose to allow the memorial to remain in place while the court challenge continues.

1 -  Christmas clashes occur throughout America

The top story of the week is actually an amalgamation of a number of different stories, all centered around the same issue - the rights of students to have freedom of expression as it pertains to the celebration of Christmas.   We have seen instances throughout the years of school districts who have placed restrictions on the acknowledgement and celebration of this holiday, which is a Federal holiday, and the state of Texas earlier this year attempted to codify the rights of students regarding Christmas by passing the "Merry Christmas" Bill, which was introduced by Texas State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, who says he just wants to inject a little common sense back into the holiday season, according to the website,

The bill amended the education code to allow Texas public school administrators, teachers, students and parents to discuss, use traditional greetings of and display symbols and scenes of “traditional winter celebrations,” generally Christmas and Hannukkah, without proselytizing.

Bohac held a press conference this week in an attempt to remind school districts about this legislation.  In a release announcing the conference, Bohac uses an example given by Rep. Pat Fallon, who said that before Thanksgiving a PTA email distributed through Frisco ISD outlined a list of “winter party rules” that included no references to any religious holiday, no use of red and green colors, and no Christmas trees would be allowed. Fallon contacted the PTA and informed it of the new law.

Bohac said, “With Christmas around the corner, our goal is to educate the public on this new law so that our teachers and students are able to celebrate the upcoming holiday season without fear of retribution or punishment...We also hope by raising awareness this legislation will become a model for others states around the country.”   Religion Today also reports that Missouri overrode a governor's veto to pass a similar law.

CitizenLink ran a story this week on 3 Montana high schools, who faced threats from the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), demanding that choir students not participate in a community Christmas festival at a local church. These schools represented students from 2 districts, who both agreed the show should go on as scheduled.

Student choirs are allowed to voluntarily participate in Christmas events.

The Alliance Defending Freedom wrote to the district superintendents, saying, “We write to commend you for rejecting the ACLU’s and FFRF’s unfounded demands that school choirs be excluded from the community Christmas festival. Such participation fully complies with applicable law...Your school districts were also right to be concerned that only disallowing choir students from singing at community events sponsored by churches would violate the First Amendment.”

Religion Today reported on a recent Rasmussen poll, showing that 75% of American adults believe Christmas should be celebrated in public schools. The pollsters note, “Despite school administrators’ concerns nationwide, Americans strongly believe that Christmas should be a part of public schools. They feel just as strongly that religious symbols should be allowed on public property.”

Widespread public support, however, has not squelched threatened litigation and school policy fights.

Periodically at Faith Radio, we receive calls or e-mails from listeners who relate to us instances where they feel that students' rights of religious expression are being inhibited.  Sometimes, people ask us to whom they could turn to find legal relief.   Earlier in this story, I had mentioned the Alliance Defending Freedom.  They have published a Christmas Memo, outlining the legal ways in which Christmas can be commemorated in a public school setting.   They also have a Fact Sheet about this issue.

Recently, ADF wrote a letter to over 13,000 school districts across the nation about the constitutional celebration of Christmas on school grounds.   This letter was intended, according to ADF, "to explain constitutional protections for religious Christmas carols that some districts have censored due to misinterpretations of the First Amendment. The letter also backs up the legitimacy of schools participating in community service projects sponsored by religious organizations and offers free legal assistance to districts that need help."

Other legal advocacy organizations that are involved in defending the religious rights of students include Liberty Institute (, which defended to so-called "Candy Cane Case", out of Plano, TX, where a student had been prohibited from handing out candy cane pens to his classmates because there was a message attached regarding the legend of the candy cane, which points to Jesus.   That case is still being litigated, apparently.

Liberty Counsel ( is another organization that has actively defended students whose religious expression rights have been limited.   The American Center for Law and Justice ( is also involved in defending students' rights.

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